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23.05.2019 Europe

Paris braces for more youth climate protests

By Christina Okello - RFI
REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo
MAY 23, 2019 EUROPE
REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

Paris braced itself for global youth strikes for climate action Thursday, as the European Parliament elections got underway. Activists have called for the EU vote to tackle the "climate emergency," denied by populists. In a recent study, Paris ranked among the top cities for combating climate change. Critics want it to go further.

"Urgency around climate change is really top of the agenda for citizens," says Kyra Appleby, Global Director for cities at CDP, an international non-profit organisation.

Indeed, global youth strikes demanding action on climate change, championed by the teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, have put environmental concerns centre-stage.

"We've seen school climate strikes not just in Paris but really around the world; and in London, we were shut down by the Extinction Rebellion," Appleby told RFI, of the UK grassroots environmental group that has used civil disobedience to cause disruption.

Cities around the world were bracing themselves for more chaos Friday, as young people geared up for a second global climate strike. 

On 15 March, thousands of them skipped school in more than 100 countries in the biggest environmental protest in history.

Two months on, they are hoping to make history on Friday again.

Climate dominates EU vote
Young people are also urging the European Union to push for a strong environmental policy, as parliamentary elections get underway.

"The EU vote is a climate vote," the collective Youth for Climate told AFP news agency.

Some 468 candidates from across Europe have publicly committed to taking urgent action on climate change if elected, with surveys showing that as many as 77 percent of potential voters consider it an important policy point.

"The European Union must take the climate emergency seriously," the collective said in a statement.

Top ranking cities
Populists however are looking to upset this green wave. Politicians on the German and French far-right have disputed that climate change exists and launched personal attacks on young climate activist Greta Thurnberg, mocking her as a green "cult" leader, according to the ISD Election Analysis Unit.

"I don't think a leader can stand without a plan for climate and a plan for putting in place rapid decarbonisation," Appleby of CDP said.

Her environmental impact group recently released an A-list of the cities doing their best to combat climate change.

Because of "the increased urgency, we decided that 'Ok it's time for us to start releasing the scores of cities to start showing the world who's leading, and who has really impressive action so that others can follow the lead," she said.

Just 43 of 596 urban areas around the globe scored an "A" rating for measures aimed at cutting emissions and strategies to combat climate change.

Paris, along with Barcelona, London, Cape Town, Hong Kong and San Francisco, was among the 7 percent. 

Crushing heat
"Paris has a very ambitious emissions reduction target," continues Appleby. "They want to be carbon neutral by 2050, and they also want to be 100 percent renewable energy by 2050."

That may not be fast enough for critics. In recent months, campaigners have marched in the French capital to denounce the government's "inaction" on climate change. Last week too, a Senator's report revealed that France was not at all ready to tackle global warming and that it would be "crushed by heat" by 2050.

"Heat is absolutely going to be an issue in France," reckons Appleby, while defending Paris' A-rating.

"One of the things that Paris has done really well is that they have done a vulnerability assessment, recognizing how heat will affect their citizens and businesses."

Adaptation plans include setting up cooling centers across the city, and allowing citizens to access museums, libraries, or use swimming pools as shelters.

Cities' fight
"Cities are a really important part in the fight against climate change," explains Appleby.

Although they occupy 2 percent of the world's land mass, urban centres are responsible for three quarters of global energy consumption and for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.

"In order to tackle climate change, we need to be working with cities, and with national governments around the world," Appleby said.

There were signs on Thursday that policy makers in France were listening.

At the country's first ever Ecological Defence Council, French Prime minister Edouard Philippe announced plans to boost lending for the energy efficiency of homes by one billion euros.

"Funding for renewable energy investments is lacking," he said, referring to France's shortfall of 20 billion euros.

"Our objective is to fill that gap (...) by using public funding as a lever for private investment," he said.

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